$75,000 reward offered in North Carolina substation attack case

Southeast

Workers work on equipment at the West End Substation, at 6910 NC Hwy 211 in West End, N.C., Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, where a serious attack on critical infrastructure has caused a power outage to many around Southern Pines, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

(NewsNation) — State and county officials have teamed up with Duke Energy to offer a $75,000 reward for information leading to the arrests and convictions of those responsible for the targeted attack on power substations that left thousands of North Carolinians in the dark for days.

“With all the folks coming together to work together and also to bring forth the amount of reward money that’s been brought forward, I think we’re just days and moments and hours away from catching the culprit that did this tragedy,” North Carolina state Sen. Tom McInnis said.

Duke Energy said Wednesday that all substation equipment damaged by recent vandalism has been either “fully repaired or replaced,” and that they are bringing power back gradually in North Carolina’s Moore County.

The company aims to have the majority of customers restored before midnight Wednesday, Duke’s website said. According to a company representative, Duke Energy started the day with roughly 35,000 consumers without power. That had dropped down to about 1,200 as of Wednesday afternoon. In their “final push to completion,” they are planning to bring several customers back to power and will continue their work throughout the night.

Authorities said the outages in Moore County began after 7 p.m. Saturday night after one or more people drove up to the two substations, breached the gates and opened fire.

Officials have called the North Carolina outages a series of coordinated attacks on power substations.

At one point this past weekend, 45,000 customers were without power. Fewer than 20,000 customers were without power in Moore County as of late Wednesday morning.

As crews continue their work to restore power, the state of emergency and curfew in Moore County will be lifted at 5 a.m. Thursday.

Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said the damage is being investigated as a criminal act. Duke Energy said the damage impacted multiple systems in each substation, calling it a “significant operation.”

State investigators are working with the FBI to determine who is responsible for what Fields said is a “targeted” attack. Law enforcement provided security at the substations and for nearby businesses.

“We are strong, and we will all come through this together. Every investigator working on this case, state, local and federal, know what you want and that’s answers. We want to know who and why. We are committed to getting you these answers,” Fields said Wednesday afternoon.

Authorities are being tight-lipped about their efforts, insisting they do not want to jeopardize the investigation. They have asked anyone living in the area of the substations to check their surveillance footage for anything unusual or suspicious and to call 910-947-4444 with that information.

NewsNation exclusively obtained a recent federal law enforcement memo warning of similar incidents in other areas.

The memo reads, in part:

Power companies in Oregon and Washington have reported physical attacks on substations using hand tools, arson, firearms and metal chains possibly in response to an online call for attacks on critical infrastructure. … In recent attacks, criminal actors bypassed security by cutting the fence links, lighting nearby fires, shooting equipment from a distance or throwing objects over the fence and onto equipment.

FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS

Officials, however, told NewsNation that it is too early to determine a motive.

There have been similar cases of vandalism in North Carolina. Sheriff’s deputies in Jones County reported on Nov. 11 that criminal vandalism had caused 12,000 people to lose power for days. That investigation is also ongoing, and no suspects have been identified.

Federal authorities have warned the country about domestic terrorism-related threats to infrastructure in the past, and did so again with an alert on Nov. 30.

“Targets of potential violence include public gatherings, faith-based institutions, the LGBTQI+ community, schools, racial and religious minorities, government facilities and personnel, U.S. critical infrastructure, the media, and perceived ideological opponents,” the alert said.

In response to the recent outages across Moore County, Duke Energy said they have elevated security around their substations by using multiple layers of different security measures designed to deter disruptions to their facilites.

“You have to prepare for a variety of things and the best way to do that is by making sure your grid is resilient. That is the other aspect of the equation, is making sure that if you have a disruption, that you can manage that disruption and you can recover from it as quickly as possible. Even though this has been a multiday outage, I would say that in many respects some of those resiliency things worked well,” a Duke Energy representative said.

“Folks, this has been a tremendous tragedy,” McInnis added. “It’s been horrible. It’s been everything we always prepare for but hope it never happens. We hope it never happens again.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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